From Newport Mansions to Fenway, Summer Program Explores Boston and New England

Students sitting in a row of seats at Fenway along the first base line under the overhang as a tour guide dressed in red tells them about the park.

College of General Studies first-years took in a Red Sox game (and, yes, attended a lecture about the team) as part of the college’s Boston–New England Experience summer program. Photo by Cydney Scott


From Newport Mansions to Fenway, Summer Program Explores Boston and New England

College of General Studies offering grows after pandemic cancels London study

July 14, 2021
Twitter Facebook

For Kathryn Lamontagne, her lecture to 20 BU students in the shadow of the stone porte cochere is a homecoming. That is, if home has 70 rooms, resembles an Italian Renaissance palace, and was originally owned by the Vanderbilts.

Completed in 1895, The Breakers, where Lamontagne (GRS’16,’20), a College of General Studies lecturer in social sciences, worked as a house manager earlier in her career, is the students’ first stop on a June tour of historic Newport, R.I. “If you’re out of this house in 20 minutes, I’m going to be a little bit worried,” she warns the Terriers. “Take your time.” 

That’s not a problem. After briefing the students on the mansion’s storied history and architectural provenance, Lamontagne leads them into the Great Hall. Necks crane up toward the ceiling, painted to look like the sky, and swivel as students take in the grand staircase and huge doors opening to the ocean. Between the mansion’s 62,000-plus square feet of living space and its photogenic opulence, the Terriers tarry about an hour inside.

From Gilded Age glamour to catching the boys of summer at Fenway Park and a cruise of Boston Harbor, CGS freshmen got a six-week introduction to the history and culture of Boston and New England this year, a locale most of them didn’t expect. The number of students in the college’s Boston-New England Experience swelled from an anticipated 35 to all 604 members of the Class of 2023, after COVID-19 scrapped the CGS London summer program for first-year students.

Ava Fischler (CGS’23), who’d expected to tour places like Westminster Abbey instead of The Breakers, wasn’t crushed. “It would have been super-awesome to live [in London] and immerse myself in the culture for six weeks. But I love Boston,” she says. “I’m from California, so going to the East Coast is like going to another planet for me.

“All this traditional stuff that happened in the 1800s—in California, you don’t see anything like this.” (You’re also spared jet lag in traveling to Newport.)

Photo of students sitting on a blanket and lunching on the lawn of a Rhode Island mansion during a field trip. It is a foggy day.
Photo of a group of students listening as they go on a tour of the Marble House in Newport. The students are outside on a stone path way and face the front of the opulent house on a foggy day.

A CGS tour of the famous mansions of Newport, R.I., included lunch on the lawn of The Breakers, the Vanderbilts’ Rhode Island summer “cottage” (left). The students also toured Marble House, recently used in shooting a new HBO series on the Gilded Age. The experience was part of CGS’s summer immersion in New England history. Left photo by Kathryn Lamontagne; right photo by Davida Pines

All CGS first-years begin college in January of their freshman year rather than the previous fall. The following summer, they choose six weeks of study in either New England or the UK. But this became the second summer that choice was off the table after a COVID-forced cancellation of London.

CGS plans a truncated one-week stay in that city in summer 2022 for students denied the program last summer and this. “Since most of the 600 incoming freshmen who will start in January 2022 [also] will be going to London next summer, there won’t be room there to host both them and the students who have missed their abroad experience in 2020 and 2021,” necessitating the one-week alternative, says Natalie McKnight, dean of CGS.

This summer’s New England excursions included a Boston Harbor cruise, with a stop at Spectacle Island, where students visited the memorial to Krystle Campbell, one of the three casualties of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, which also killed Lu Lingzi (GRS’13) and eight-year-old Martin Richard. On a lighter note, no self-respecting Boston experience would omit the Red Sox, and students took in a Sox-Astros game, augmented by a stadium tour and a lecture on Sox history from Thomas Whalen, a CGS associate professor of social sciences and author of a book on the history of the Boston franchise

Students with medical conditions or lingering anxieties about COVID-19 have virtual options. The day of the Newport trip, some who stayed home indulged their operatic tastes with La bohème.

“We’re all very disappointed that we couldn’t be in London this summer,” McKnight says, “but our faculty and staff designed exciting trips and virtual experiences” so that New England could understudy for old England.

Kirsten Brighton (CGS’23) was not disappointed. She would have opted to stay stateside even without COVID-19, as London is been-there-done-that for her (she used to live in England), and she wanted to be close to her family in the United States. While Newport architecture lacks the impressive medievalness of London’s, she says, she very much enjoyed the former’s opulence.

Maisha Miah (CGS’22,CAS’24), at right, looks over the field during a tour of Fenway Park. She wears a black adidas sweater.
Photo taken from above as Davida Pines and Karen Healy’s CGS class gets a tour of Fenway Park, including Fenway Farms Garden. The garden has lines of raised beds in a flat area on top of the stadium.

Maisha Miah (CGS’23) and fellow CGS students looking over the field during a tour of Fenway Park June 11 (left). The tour included a look at Fenway Farms Garden (right). Photos by Cydney Scott

“It’s much more grand,” she says. “I’d actually like to be a surgeon, but I do quite enjoy learning about architecture. My mom and dad are quite interested in it—they’ve just [refurbished] an inn on Cape Cod from 1839.” A magazine article on how exposing medical students to the humanities makes them more empathetic toward patients indicated to her that what she’s learning in the Boston–New England Program will buttress her surgeon’s “observational skills,” she says.

Brighton’s comments get at a key interdisciplinary goal of the Boston–New England Experience. Classes in between the field trips taught rhetoric, social studies, and humanities, targeting pivot points in history, says Kate Nash, a CGS lecturer in rhetoric and another faculty chaperone in Newport.

The Rhode Island visit incorporated instruction in all three disciplines—“They’re talking a lot about the Gilded Age in social science and humanities,” she says, and Newport is a time machine that reveals how the rich and famous lived then. As for rhetoric, her own discipline, Nash says, “we’re thinking about the way spaces and design kind of make an argument. In Newport, at least for our class, they think a little bit about the rhetoric of space and how design speaks.”

Davida Pines, a CGS associate professor and chair of rhetoric, says this summer challenged the New England staff, which pinch-hit for the London program in arranging field trips for hundreds who would have otherwise been overseas—all while juggling ever-changing pandemic restrictions and experiences for remote students.

“We were excited about a lot of ideas that ended up being places that we actually couldn’t go,” Pines says. “We were thinking about Provincetown, but the fast ferry to Provincetown in the midst of COVID—now, of course, [restrictions] have changed a bit—there are reasons that that trip would have been harder for BU to feel OK about.”

Staying stateside provided students an “experiential and interdisciplinary education,” just as the London sojourn would have done, McKnight says, and students will receive the same credits necessary to complete their freshman year.

They also had fun.

At Marble House, another Newport mansion, a staffer tips the Terrier visitors that one room had to be closed off recently to accommodate the filming of an upcoming TV series, the brains behind which she’s not at liberty to disclose. When Lamontagne implores her for a hint, the staffer elicits excited gasps from the students with: “the creator of Downton Abbey.

Then she recalls that the Internet had already spilled the beans: the unscheduled show is Julian Fellowes’ The Gilded Age for HBO.

Explore Related Topics:

  • Share this story
  • 1 Comments Add


From Newport Mansions to Fenway, Summer Program Explores Boston and New England

  • Rich Barlow

    Senior Writer

    Photo: Headshot of Rich Barlow, an older white man with dark grey hair and wearing a grey shirt and grey-blue blazer, smiles and poses in front of a dark grey backdrop.

    Rich Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Perhaps the only native of Trenton, N.J., who will volunteer his birthplace without police interrogation, he graduated from Dartmouth College, spent 20 years as a small-town newspaper reporter, and is a former Boston Globe religion columnist, book reviewer, and occasional op-ed contributor. Profile

Comments & Discussion

Boston University moderates comments to facilitate an informed, substantive, civil conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, misleading, incoherent or off-topic comments will be rejected. Moderators are staffed during regular business hours (EST) and can only accept comments written in English. Statistics or facts must include a citation or a link to the citation.

There is 1 comment on From Newport Mansions to Fenway, Summer Program Explores Boston and New England

  1. I continue to be inspired and so impressed with the myriad ways BU faculty and programs have adapted throughout the pandemic. Thanks for sharing this great story about a great course!

Post a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *